Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Techies

Techies project by Helena Price
Techies is a portrait and interview project by Helena Price that focuses on sharing stories of people who tend to be underrepresented in the greater tech narrative. The project has two main goals: to show the outside world a more comprehensive picture of people who work in tech, and to bring a bit of attention to folks in the industry whose stories have never been heard, considered or celebrated. The belief is that storytelling is a powerful tool for social impact and positive change.

Women-in-Astronomy-Blogger Jessica Kirkpatrick was on of the 100 "techies" profiled. Her interview discusses her experience as a woman in astrophysics, a person with a disability, a woman in tech, and a Bay Area native who has watched her home town dramatically change by the rise of Silicon Valley.

Read Jessica's full interview, and interviews of 99 other underrepresented folks at Techies Project. Helena will be tweeting highlights from the interviews and posting them on Medium for the next 100 days.  Follow the project here: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Medium.




6 comments :

Marnie said...

I find this expose, Techies, featured on the Women in Astronomy web page to be, in fact, quite discriminatory with respect to age.

Most who work in technology are not VCs or founders, or Directors of Engineering, at 30. Most do not parachute into "engineering" careers with degrees outside computer science or engineering, unlike many of the people featured in this expose.

I’m not sure what the intent of this article is. To me in looks like a promotion piece for the Bay Area and New York young and beautiful "children of the wealthy" campaign.

I don't think this kind of promotion piece really does anything to advance the cause of non-traditional people in technology. Where is Jane Schmoo, 55 year old nobody in her cube? I don't see her in these pictures.

Marnie said...

I did read through a number of the bios in this article.

The article features 100 people. Approximately 70 of the people featured are women. Of those, only 12 are mothers with actual track records in engineering or core technical areas. By this I mean that they are involved in hands on technology, not product marketing, program management, etc., and have 5 or more years of experience.

In the broader world, it should be noted that four out of five women have children. The average age for professional first time mothers is about thirty, while for non-professionals it is about 24 years of age.

So the article features 12/70 mothers as actual working engineers or computer scientists while in the broader world, 4/5 women are mothers. Do the numbers. Essentially, the pattern of excluding mothers in "tech" means that more than 60% of women will either not be hired, or will leave or be pushed out of the highest paying and most prestigious "tech" positions once they have children.

I would also note that many men are pushed out of their "tech" jobs in Silicon Valley once they have children, because the "ideal" employee for Silicon Valley VCs is an expendable one, without children, and without those costly family benefit needs.

Two or three women interviewed for this article do speak openly about the extreme gender bias and discrimination challenges faced by mothers in core technical positions.

Leanne Waldal's comments are quite open.

Muffy Barkocy is also quite open. The fact that she is still a senior designer after so many years as a software engineer with formal training speaks volumes. Think about it. She was doing software engineering when Sergei Brin was in high school. Muffy is absolutely typical of many expert women engineers who have never been promoted beyond senior engineer level.

It would be one thing if there were at least some mothers who had advanced to CTO or other core technical lead positions through the standard engineering track. The fact is that this is extremely rare. Even Leanne Waldal has transitioned to marketing, even though she is extremely technical. That's a loss for growth of women and mothers as technical leads, in my opinion. Why isn't Waldal CTO of DropBox? Pressure from the VCs?

And you can look online. It is not as if the opinion of VCs is hidden. VCs have openly stated that they do not want to hire mothers into core technical positions. They say that there bias is only against mothers with young children, but their actually track record shows that it is all mothers against whom they are biased.

I would also note that the article focuses almost exclusively on software, so it is not truly reflective of "tech" where many positions require expertise with things like FPGAs, integrated circuit design, PCB design, packaging, etc. There very few self taught people working in these areas.

Jessica Kirkpatrick said...

Thanks for your feed back Marnie. I'll pass this along to Helena Price.

Marnie said...

Jessica,

I did enjoy many of these personal stories. Some of them were touching and they reflect just how far we have to go.

It would be great if you could relay my concerns about age discrimination, and particularly, age discrimination as it pertains to mothers, in Silicon Valley, to Helena Price.

I would also like to add some comments about an article I saw this morning by Tracy Chou (who is at Pinterest):

http://qz.com/659196/i-had-so-many-advantages-and-i-barely-made-it-pinterests-tracy-chou-on-sexism-in-tech/

She states "At Stanford, I took two introductory computer science classes. I soon became convinced that I was much too behind my male classmates to ever catch up. I was surrounded by men who’d breezily skipped prerequisite courses. As freshmen, they’d signed up for classes that I was intimidated to take even as a sophomore. They casually mentioned software engineering internships they had completed back in high school, and declared they were unfazed by any of the challenges professors might throw our way."

My thoughts: I was lucky in high school in that I had two physics teachers (both male) who highly encouraged my interest in physics. They were great teachers, who loved their subject matter, who were truly open to all students. Also at Royal Military College, many of my professors encouraged my interest in physics and math. A few didn't, but many did. Some of these professors knew Ursula Franklin, the University of Toronto metallurgist (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ursula_Franklin). Many of them entered their fields when the memory of Marie Currie was still fresh. For whatever reason, they were at least willing to consider that I might have potential as a scientist or engineer. One of my physics professors, David Baird, had been a student of Max Born at the University of Edinburgh.

As I continued in my career and later went back to school to get engineering degrees, I encountered students and professors like the ones Tracy Chou describes: ones who felt that they could easily breeze through computer science classes with little work. Because of my earlier experiences with people like David Baird, and my own deep belief that there was little difference in the innate mathematical, scientific and programming abilities of women and men, I was immediately suspicious of the blasé attitude of many of my male classmates.

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Marnie said...

I had a similar experience to Tracy Chou. Initially it was intimidating to hear classmates say that they had breezed through an assignment or test while I had worked hard or even lived in the library studying 12 hours a day before exams.

In about third year, I noticed that many of my classmates that said they didn't have to work hard were occasionally getting very low grades on assignments and exams. I realized that in many cases, they were too confident and were not studying hard enough. Sure, because of differences in high school preparation or summer schools, in the first few years of undergraduate programs, some students can lean on previous experience. But by third and fourth year, where more expertise is required, there is no replacement for hard work.

(Actually, that was the advice to my husband from Doc Edgerton (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harold_Eugene_Edgerton: Three words: "Work like Hell.")

Because of my early experience in physics, I never doubted my own ability compared to other students, but it was very interesting to realize just how much bluster and posturing had been going on in those early years of my engineering program.

The same thing occurred when I continued for my Master's degree. Even some of the junior male professors engaged in behavior that was defensive and seemed to be driven by insecurity.

Over and over again, I've seen men with average skills suggest that women are innately less able to do computer science (or the like.) Often, the tasks at hand are not particularly challenging. (Truth be told, a lot of programming isn't all that challenging. You can hack and recompile many times to get it right and many programmers lean on this.)

Still in the public mind, with perpetuation of the Boy Wonder ethos of Steve Jobs (who did not have a degree) and Mark Zuckerberg (who does not have a degree), we've continued to push the notion that girls and women are less competent at engineering and computer science. The Boy Wonder image is not an accident. It has been cultivated by the venture community to foster a workforce that is in their comfort zone that is young and male. I should know. The first company I worked at out of school was funded by Sequoia and managed by none other that Sequoia VC Mike Goguen. Their game plane was being rolled out as early as the mid 1990s. The climate at this Mike Goguen managed startup was definitely more backward with regard to mentoring women than anything I had encountered in school.

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Marnie said...

The result is that when women do survive the stupidities and posturing behavior in their engineering and computer science studies, they then encounter a Silicon Valley workplace that now believes that women are innately less capable at often rather mundane and not particularly challenging computing projects. Moreover, given people like Mike Goguen, it is easy to see why families have been vilified and women objectified.

Mike Goguen: http://techcrunch.com/2016/03/11/longtime-vc-michael-goguen-was-just-hit-with-an-explosive-lawsuit/

Check the reddit on Tracy Chou's article to see just how biased and ridiculous things have become:

https://www.reddit.com/r/programming/comments/4egyio/i_had_so_many_advantages_and_i_barely_made_it/

Reddit comments:

"having more testosterone makes technical topics easier to learn. This puts women at a natural handicap in topics like math and engineering."

I've heard this stuff frequently in the course of my career, and much more. Most of the cognitive psychology studies do not support a large difference in computer science, math or science ability between men and women. Certainly, whatever (small) differences that do exist do not account for the large gaps in employment or pay between women and men in computer science, engineering, or math.

When I interviewed at Apple a few years ago, I was reminded of just how bad things had become. I was interviewed for a position that was below my experience level. The interview process was highly chaotic with people coming and going and no interview schedule. The HR person in charge had a highly cavalier attitude. One of the people interviewing me, who I had worked with ten years before, who I had been senior to, and who had less education than me, and was from a less prestigious university, asked me why I had a gap in my resume and why I had not advanced beyond staff senior design level. When I answered bluntly that I had taken time out to be a mom, and that given my ten years of design experience, my lack of advancement might be due to unconscious bias against mothers, he responded very defensively, denied that unconscious bias existed, and essentially ended the interview. Needless to say, I did not get the job.

This was about five years ago, before Apple, Google, Netflix, Facebook, Twitter etc. (the FANG companies) were forced to disclose their diversity statistics.

Things haven't changed much since. Women engineers and computer scientists in Silicon Valley, and especially at the FANGs, are still treated badly for the most part (and much worse than many other parts of the country) and are largely being held back in their careers by discrimination that is ultimately driven by the venture community.

Something to consider: Ellen Pao was let go from Kleiner Perkins when she took maternity leave. While things weren't great before this, it was only when she took maternity leave that things really fell apart.

Maybe John Doerr, Mike Moritz and the like, need a little training from Nancy Hopkins:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-IWX-GLpKs

For now though, Kleiner Perkins secred motto is still "Dream Bigger, but Only if You're Under Forty and a Man."

Marnie